White Sox season preview: Infielders

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White Sox season preview: Infielders

Every day this week leading up to Friday's Opening Day contest against Texas (1 p.m., Comcast SportsNet), we'll be previewing a different unit of the White Sox. Today, we kick off the home stretch of the preseason with a look at what to expect from the White Sox infield in 2012, specifically looking at the defense. Check back later Monday for a look at what the infield could provide offensively.

While Detroit may gaffe their way to a few losses thanks to extremely suspect infield defense, the White Sox may have a few victories saved by the stellar gloves of Alexei Ramirez, Brent Morel and Gordon Beckham. Those three, plus the sure hands of Paul Konerko, the run-saving abilities of A.J. Pierzynski and the slick fielding of backup Eduardo Escobar could combine to give the Sox their best defensive infield since Joe Crede and Juan Uribe manned the left side.

Ramirez should've won at least one Gold Glove by now; that he hasn't tells you all you need to know about the legitimacy of that award. Over the last three seasons, Ramirez has been a top-three shorstop in baseball, in the same zip code as Brendan Ryan and J.J. Hardy, per UZR. Ramirez is the defensive stalwart of the infield, and he and Beckham combine to give the White Sox outstanding infield defense up the middle.

Beckham started to come into his own defensively at second base last year. His low error total was great, but more importantly, he began to show better range and instincts as he settled in as a second baseman. Expect to see Beckham make more difficult plays as he enters his third year at second base -- his familiarity with the position and Ramirez should pay off in a big way.

The same can be said for Morel, who enters his second year as the team's starting third baseman with a greater knowledge base of opponents -- something that should come in handy in terms of his instincts and positioning. And it can't hurt that he has arguably the best defensive third baseman in franchise history saying he's a great defender.

Sliding across the diamond to first base, Konerko has as sure a pair of hands of any first baseman in the game. He's never had good range, but if you hit a ball in his vicinity, he'll make the play. That's more of a problem for secondthirdshort -- positions where you want to have guys who can go out of their zones to make a play -- but for first base, it's not the biggest problem ever. A good pair of hands is extremely important at first, and Konerko has just that.

Behind the plate will be a little tricky in all this defensive optimism. Pierzynski, defensively, hasn't rated as being a good catcher in quite some time now. His caught stealing percentages -- which have been at or below the league average for the last decade -- are actually not accurate as to how many runners Pierzynski has thrown out (pitcher pickoffs count toward the total). By Baseball-Reference's count, Pierzynski threw out 13 runners last year, the lowest total of any starting catcher in the majors.

But Pierzysnki earns another paragraph because of his aforementioned ability to prevent runs by doing other things right -- namely, his ability to work with the Sox pitching staff. Pierzynski's knowledge of opponents and ability to pick up on tendencies during pitch sequences has been pretty valuable to the White Sox since he joined the team in 2005. And for that, he deserves some praise.

The backups -- Escobar, Flowers and Lillibridge -- range from good to average-at-best on the defensive spectrum. Escobar is a plus defender who can play third base, shortstop and second base, but he's not much of a hitter. Conversely, Lillibridge's infield defense isn't as good, but he has a much better bat and can play first base. Expect Lillibridge to see most of the backup infield playing time, although if Dayan Viciedo needs a day off in left on the same day, say, Beckham needs a day off at second, both he and Escobar will find their way into the lineup.

How Robin Ventura uses Tyler Flowers will be one of the more interesting managerial trends to follow in 2012 -- no full-time catcher has played in more games since 2005 than Pierzynski, who has appeared in 40 more games than Yadier Molina, the next closest backstop on the list.

That meant White Sox backups didn't play a whole lot: Ramon Castro (91 games, 2009-2011), Toby Hall (79, 2007-2008) and Chris Widger (72, 2005-2006) saw the most action. But the Sox haven't ever had a young catcher come through to back up Pierzynski, and given this is the last year of Pierzynski's contract, it'll be interesting to see if Ventura wants to get Flowers in more to determine if the 26-year-old is a viable long-term replacement.

To sum it up

Ground balls should be fun this year, whether they're hit to short, second or third.

Derek Holland not satisfied despite strong outing in White Sox loss

Derek Holland not satisfied despite strong outing in White Sox loss

Derek Holland turned in one of his best starts of the season on Sunday afternoon. Unfortunately, the White Sox had nothing to show for it after a 5-3 loss to the Oakland Athletics on Sunday afternoon.

In six innings, Holland allowed four hits, one earned run, and two walks while recording six strikeouts. He was charged with his only run in the seventh, when he allowed a single to Yonder Alonso, who came around to score after Holland had been pulled from the game.

Despite his confidence in the bullpen, which has been one of the White Sox biggest strengths this season, Holland would like to see himself go deeper into the games.

“I should be getting into the 7th and not having 110 pitches,” Holland said. “The bullpen's done a great job of picking us up in the seventh, eighth and ninth. The starters, and really pointing more to myself, we need to...I need to go out there and go longer."

Entering Sunday, three of Holland’s last four starts had been the worst outings of the season – allowing 22 earned runs over those four games. Despite the team’s 5-3 loss, Holland felt his outing was a step in the right direction.

“I felt good about everything out there,” Holland said. “(Omar Narvaez) and I were right on the same page. There were just a couple of things that got away from us. Just one of those things. Defense made the plays for us when they needed to, unfortunately we just didn't come out on top."

Manager Rick Renteria also had high praise for the 30-year-old southpaw, who bounced back from one of his shortest outings of the season.

“I thought Holland, hopefully what's not lost is Holland's outing today was really, really good,” Renteria said. “He kept us in the ballgame. They've got some kids that can swing the bat. They were putting things together. All we were trying to do at the end was minimize any damage they could produce. We weren't able to.”

Tough luck for Tommy Kahnle as White Sox blow lead, get swept by A’s

Tough luck for Tommy Kahnle as White Sox blow lead, get swept by A’s

Tommy Kahnle has been one of the White Sox brightest bright spots, but fell victim to some tough luck that could ding on his under-the-radar All-Star bid.

Kahnle allowed the tying and go-ahead runs in the White Sox 5-3 loss to the Oakland Athletics Sunday in front of 28,089 at Guaranteed Rate Field, marking only the sixth time in 31 games the 27-year-old right-hander has allowed a run in 2017.

In the eighth inning, Kahnle allowed a broken bat single to Franklin Barreto, then Ryon Healy reached on a Todd Frazier error. Khris Davis tied the game with a single to left, knocking Kahnle out of the game, and Oakland took the lead when Yonder Alonso blooped a single off David Robertson that plopped into left field out of the reach of Melky Cabrera. Consider the hit probabilities, according to Statcast, of those three hits and the error:

Barreto: 78 percent
Healy: 5 percent
Davis: 62 percent
Alonso: 2 percent

That Kahnle coughed up the lead was surprising given his stealthy success leading a strong back end of the White Sox bullpen this year. The White Sox, prior to Sunday's defeat, were 28-0 when leading after seven innings. 

"Our bullpen's doing a great (job), it really is," manager Rick Renteria said. "I think you can't take away from what they've been doing for us all year long. We've been going to them a lot."

On that improbable Alonso bloop single, Cabrera was shifted more toward center field. 

"He was actually playing a little more to the pull side than he was to the line," Renteria said. "I don't think he was going to be able to get to it, regardless of the effort he might have given us. These guys are all a little fatigued, they're a little tired right now. They're giving you what they've got right now."

Entering Sunday’s game, Kahnle’s 1.2 WAR was sixth-best American League relievers, behind Boston’s Craig Kimbrel (2.2), Houston’s Chris Devenski (1.6), Cleveland’s Andrew Miller (1.6), Los Angeles’ Blake Parker (1.4) and Toronto’s Roberto Osuna (1.3). His 44.8 strikeout percentage is among the five best in baseball along with Kimbrel, New York’s Dellin Betances, Los Angeles’ Kenley Jansen and Milwaukee’s Corey Knebel.

Kahnle has been undoubtedly spectacular this year even with Sunday’s hiccup, though with Garcia seeming likely to be on the American League All-Star roster, Terry Francona wouldn’t have to take him to fill the game’s requirement. That this year’s All-Star Game doesn’t count — it’s the first since 2002 that won’t dictate home-field advantage in the World Series — could alter Francona’s roster construction to reward more starters and closers, and the Cleveland Indians manager would certainly be justified if he wanted to take his own setup guy in Miller.

The White Sox handed Kahnle the lead on Adam Engel’s first career home run (a solo shot in the third) and Jose Abreu’s dash home on a passed ball in the fourth. Starter Derek Holland was solid, allowing one run on four hits with two walks and six strikeouts over six innings. Melky Cabrera added a solo home run in the ninth inning, his eighth of the season.

Adam Rosales and Matt Joyce homered off Robertson and Chris Beck, respectively, in the ninth inning to give the A’s a comfortable ending to their three-game sweep of the White Sox. Beck was hit by a comebacker after allowing that home run and left the game with a bruised left hamstring, and is considered day-to-day.